Thursday 15 October 2020

What it’s like to help a dog survive cancer by Laura Hamilton

With a big smile, I’m watching Lily, my Golden Retriever. She’s already run around with her mother, Pilot. Now she’s jumping over her visiting playmate and larger litter-mate, Bentley, my daughter and son-in-law’s dog. Bentley has thrown himself upside down onto the grass for Lily, enjoying her play-growls as she chews his ear. It’s a sight I thought I’d never see ten months ago when Lily was diagnosed with cancer.





I had been brushing Lily on Tuesday afternoon, 15th October 2019, when I found what I thought was a big knot of hair on the back of her left leg near her tail. But it wasn’t hair. It was a lump under her skin. Knowing what that might mean, I made an appointment for her at the vet’s for the next morning.


Two vets examined Lily’s lump and immediately took a biopsy. A week later, I was phoned the news I’d dreaded: Lily had hemangiosarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer which could quickly spread to her spleen, heart and liver. Without treatment, Lily’s survival might have been months, if not weeks.





Lily was quickly referred to AndersonMoores Veterinary Specialists. A week later, she was there for a consultation with an extraordinarily gifted surgeon before her operation scheduled for that same afternoon. I signed the permission form for Lily to have surgery.


Watching Lily being led away for the preliminary CT scan, I felt a surreal mix of relief, because she was going to be helped, and disbelief, because she was leaving to have surgery. For cancer! Everything had happened so fast. It had been only 16 days since I’d found her lump.


Back home, I waited nervously for the surgeon’s call to tell me how Lily’s operation had gone. But when he phoned, he said he’d postponed the operation for a day, because her CT scan raised concerns about her spleen. He’d biopsied it and needed the results before proceeding in case her spleen was cancerous.


Thankfully, the spleen biopsy result, back the next day, showed no cancer so surgery to remove the lump went ahead. Lily came home the following evening.



                         Lily just after her surgery




Surgery was just the beginning. Lily also needed chemotherapy so one month later, she began 18 weeks of chemotherapy, 6 cycles, each 3 weeks long. Lily’s oncologist was brilliant, incredibly knowledgeable, and extremely reassuring about Lily.


Before every treatment, Lily was weighed and her blood tested.  Each cycle began with Doxorubicin by infusion, one of the most powerful chemotherapy drugs ever developed. Two weeks later, she had Vinblastin by injection. A week after that, she started the next cycle with Doxorubicin again, and so the cycles continued, month after month after month.


After every Doxorubicin infusion, Lily had loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhea. Her oncologist provided tablets to cope with these.


Often Lily needed coaxing to eat. It once took two hours for her to have breakfast. Sometimes I had as many as 12 foods to tempt her like chicken, salmon, sardines, ginger biscuits, scrambled eggs, doggie ice cream and juice from roasted fillet.


Lily lost so much hair (all grown back now) that she wore her fleece-lined waterproof jacket for walks in the winter and the spring. I didn’t risk having her catch a chill. Or, indeed, catch anything. Concerned that chemotherapy might depress her immune system, I kept her away from dogs other than Pilot and Bentley, and attached a fluorescent yellow lead slip to her lead reading MY DOG REQUIRES SPACE.  We were experts at “social distancing” months before Covid-19 necessitated it.



                         Lily during her treatment with her nurse


     Lily lost a lot of hair during her treatment


A week after Lily’s final Vinblastin injection, she had a CT scan. It still raised concerns about her spleen, so she had another biopsy which, happily, showed no cancer. Lily was declared clear! There was great rejoicing at AndersonMoores and at home.

Three months later, Lily had another CT scan. To everyone’s delight, there was no sign of cancer.

Her next scan will be just over a year since the day I found her lump.

                         Lily and Laura after the 'all clear'


Cost in time and in money


Lily has had a lot of help on her road to remission. First, I found her lump early. Then intuitive local vets rapidly referred her to AndersonMoores. There her surgeon, her oncologist and their colleagues gave her exceptional care.


Lily had me with her at home all the time and at all her appointments, cherishing her and caring for her.


Her pet insurance also covered almost all of the cost of her most comprehensive care which, to date, has been nearly £17,500.


Was it money well spent? It certainly saved Lily so that she could enjoy a life worth living. As she plays with Pilot and Bentley now, I smile. Yes. It’s been worth every penny.

                         Lily back at home, happy and fully recovered

Beautiful native hares are threatened by hunting

One of Britain’s most recognised but elusive wild creatures is the hare. Often associated with symbolism and mystery, these beautiful animals deserve to live peacefully in our countryside, but, sadly, are threatened by illegal hunting.


There are three native species of hare in the UK. The brown hare with its distinctive black-tipped long ears, the mountain hare, whose russet coat changes to white or grey to blend into snowy surroundings, and the Irish hare, a sub species of the mountain hare found only in Ireland.

                                            Brown hare © Norfolk Wildlife Trust


These timid and elegant creatures are in danger of being victims of hare hunting packs. In England and Wales there are 71 registered hare hunting packs, and in Northern Ireland, seven. Scottish mountain hares have protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, if properly enforced. But hunters are notoriously tricky to catch, and evade the law.

                                           Mountain hare © I Campbell GWCT



The League Against Cruel Sports is campaigning to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004. Whilst offering some protection, it still allows loopholes to be exploited by unscrupulous hare hunters, who may claim that they are hunting rabbits (legally) whilst ‘accidentally’ killing protected hares. Hunting with dogs is cruel, causing suffering to the hares who naturally live above ground (unlike rabbits), and are chased to the point of exhaustion.

The brown hare is listed as a conservation priority in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, so everything possible should be done to help him thrive. In Scotland, mountain hares are illegally hunted to protect grouse moors, and in Northern Ireland it is still legal to hunt hares.


Read more about how to help the campaign to  educate law enforcers to identify this cruel activity and  give hares better protection under the law on the League Against Cruel Sports website

Let’s hope that the campaign gets the support it deserves, to help protect these iconic and beautiful wild creatures.

                                            Irish hare © Irish News